Longform

A severely diabetic Valley woman faces criminal charges over her "service animal": a chimpanzee named Joey

Joey answers the front door of his home in Surprise, 30 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix.

Playing the perfect host, he jumps into his guest's arms and lays a big kiss on his cheek before showing the visitor around the well-appointed, spotless 5,300-square-foot residence.

Joey's wearing light-blue pajamas colorfully adorned with space ships, planets, and the words, "Out of This World." But it's early on a balmy August morning, so why stand on ceremony?

He leads the way up to the second story, and steps over to a pool table, next to which a hairy, 20-year-old tree sloth named Pooh Bear quietly hangs by his toes upside down in a cage.

Next stop is a movie-screening room, where Joey reclines in a big black chair for a moment.

Then it's back downstairs, where he plops into a large beanbag chair and stares up at a television set.

It's that impish cartoon monkey Curious George on the screen, in yet another pickle, and Joey instantly is transported, maybe because he's a 3-year-old chimpanzee — a real-life version — himself.

The son of onetime Ringling Brothers chimps Jenny and Tony, Joey was born in captivity in 2005 at a wildlife preserve in the Texas Hill Country called the Sunrise Exotic Ranch.

He averts his eyes when goofy George gets bopped on the head, and jumps for joy when the cartoon character does something silly.

But Joey doesn't sit still for long.

He grabs a skateboard as a chow named Harley looks on (two other dogs are somewhere else in the house), crouches down, and propels himself across the long hallway.

For safety purposes, Joey is tethered to a 15-foot leash handled by one of his owners.

Joey recently celebrated his birthday with a pool party here at the home of Kristy Pruett and ex-husband Andrew (yes, ex-husband — the couple say they reunited shortly after their 2003 divorce).

But the chimp suffers from several food allergies and couldn't partake of his own cake.

Kristy comes into the living room and introduces herself. She is a slight, 42-year-old woman with pale, delicate features and a sweet, engaging manner.

Giggling a little, she explains that Joey sleeps between her and Andrew at night.

Waiting for the punch line? You don't need one with a blonde, her ex-husband, and their chimp in bed together, but here goes: "Get your grubby paws off of me, you hairy beast! Whoops. Sorry, Joey."

Though they dote on their chimp like proud parents, Kristy and Andrew say they consider Joey a "service animal," not a pet.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government."

A disability is "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity."

Examples of those activities, according to ADA standards, are walking, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, performing manual tasks, or caring for one's self.

Kristy suffers from a severe case of Type 1 juvenile diabetes, and the problems caused by the disease include her deteriorating eyesight and dangerously unpredictable fluctuations of her blood sugar.

Exactly how Joey "assists" Kristy goes to the heart of this story, but hold on a moment.

Joey weighs 27 pounds, much less than what he will weigh when he reaches adulthood. Chimpanzees can weigh up to 200 pounds, though Kristy says Joey's mother was small, probably 80 pounds or so.

"Come on, Joey!" she tells her attentive chimp. "Show me your belly button!"

The animal rolls on its back, and jabs a long, hairy, eerily human-looking finger at his navel.

"There it is!" Kristy shrieks at him. "There's that fat belly! What a good boy!"

Though the mood is light, the reason for the guest's presence hovers like a cloud.

The state of Arizona considers Joey an illegal chimpigrant, if you will, and has expended untold resources and money trying to force Kristy to export her primate.

Which's the last thing she wants to do.


Arizona Game and Fish officials claim that Kristy illegally imported Joey from Texas last year, breaking laws against bringing in "restricted wildlife" for more than 60 days without a special permit.

Orangutans, gorillas, and numerous other creatures also fit into the category.

For some reason, the regulations don't list other primates, such as baboons, capuchins, or macaques, as "restricted."

Those animals are covered under Arizona's "infant primate" rule, which says no primates less than half of their anticipated adult weight may be imported into the state.

Kristy previously owned a macaque named Andy (named after her ex-husband) for a decade. Andy died in June 2006 of complications after surgery.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin